“Bureaucracy is a global thing. “ ~ Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School
I had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session Day 1 with Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School at Unleash 2018 in Vegas. Long before this Q&A, he had wooed me with his words and refreshing perspectives on the disease of bureaucracy as it pertains to the workforce.
One of the reasons why I believe I was unable to flourish in Corporate America was because of my disdain for bureaucracy and politics. “Disdain” is a strong word, but completely applicable here. It wasn’t that I was beyond adhering to the structure or constructs that existed in the organizations that I worked for. It was that those constructs and structures always felt constricting and for all intents and purposes they didn’t appear to have a positive impact on the workforce. To this point, Gary shared in our session that he thought “Very few businesses worry about the environmental costs of bureaucracy and CEO’s only recognize the cost of bureaucracy vaguely.”
The reason why businesses can’t bother to care about these environmental costs is that the function of bureaucracy is to control and maintain order. Gary suggests there are likely really great reasons why bureaucracy existed, to begin with, but maintains it isn’t very useful given the world we live in today.
To some, I may have been pre-maturely seen as an anarchist who wanted things her way and had little respect for rules. The reality is as Gary Hamel asserts: “The pressure on the employees in the US is far more impactful than anywhere else in the world. US companies have an even more transactional lens for people at work.” To put it plainly, those who participate in the US workforce are seen as expendable and a means to an end. It is this line of thinking that ensures that our employee engagement numbers never budge or budge ever so slightly year-to-year. US workers are mere cogs in the wheel and we know it. Not only do we know it, we aren’t collectively empowered to stop it, because of course money.
I was and I am currently one of those people who believe that there are alternatives to bureaucracy. In our Q&A, Gary shared: “You have to believe there are alternatives to bureaucracy. It’s hard to imagine what you haven’t seen.” There is a great conflict in the world at large, but most certainly one at work too. It is the battle of old ways of thinking versus new ways of thinking. In the former example, it is hard for older establishments to wrap their minds around any other work arrangement/relationship that isn’t grounded in having to control how people think, work and show-up. They haven’t been privy to the evidence that suggests an alternative, and even if they had seen the promise of another way of managing people; it is likely a very uncomfortable notion to imagine a workforce where people work autonomously and on their own terms without being infantilized at work.
“Why don’t people have the ability to design their own job or choose their own boss, or approve their own expenses? We are so used to people needing parents or infantilization at work. “~Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School.
Transparency for what?
Another pet peeve I have had with organizations I have been a part of was the lack of transparency. This goes hand-in-hand with the infantilization that goes on in many companies per Gary Hamel’s keynote on “Humanocracy”. Imagine for a second being an adult in every other aspect of your life. This is probably not a hard vision to conjure. You have a family that relies on you, bills, debts, and a healthy dose of responsibility. Yet, daily you report to a job that doesn’t think you worthy of sharing information that may affect your livelihood. Perhaps the business isn’t performing well financially. In most cases, that company you report to would rather cease to exist than to confide in the very people who make it profitable daily. It’s a ludicrous concept and surely antiquated. People should be trusted to show up and work as the adults that they are. Professor Hamel shared with us that: “Transparency needs to be a core principle for how we do business. Let’s be a little more open and have a little more freedom.”
What is the path forward?
“Evolutionary goals and revolutionary steps is the path forward. “
Gary challenges leaders to “employ radical business models while imagining a radically different workplace”. Questioning old hypothesis is a start as well as challenging your own embedded assumptions. Professor Hamel also maintains that we ought to “find a migration path between the past and the future”. “If you are a traditional company it is a much harder transition to moving from bureaucracy”. Aversive strategies to shifting out of bureaucracy do not work. It is about a gradual migration path”.
Some other sentiments shared by Professor Hamel worth further exploration:
- HR is the fastest growing function of the organization but has the least buy-in and respect within the organization. We need to ask ourselves why we struggle to self-actualize when this premise is true.
- The world is changing too quickly to be tied to hierarchical constructs. Why are you holding onto hierarchical constructs? Is it because it truly works for you or is it about control? It is worthy of some further exploration.
- Technology will be used to disempower more than empower.
- Technology is used to aggregate and exert control.
- Employees come first, customers’ second, shareholders last. If your employees aren’t happy, it is safe to say no one will be happy. Nurture your people first and everything else in business will flourish.
Gary is ingenious in the way he sees the world. He had a lot more to say, so as such I am sharing my Growth on my Terms podcast recording of the Gary Hamel Q&A. Have a listen and reflect on where your organization is and how you can begin to reimagine work while envisioning a gradual migration to less bureaucracy and more trusting professional ties and relationships.
This week’s theme for #BlackBlogsMatter is “The Tao of Woke”. As a result, I decided to speak about the state of “wokeness” and what it should mean for you as we continue to navigate difficult themes around race relations and society.
The word: “Awake” is defined as: “to stop sleeping or wake from sleep”. “Woke” being a derivative of “awake” must then be related to that definition. You are not “woke” if you wear kente cloth and are vegan. You are not woke if you wear ankhs and have changed your name back to something more tied to African culture. You are not “woke” if you are white and have 3 black friends, where faux locs, watch Good Times reruns in your free-time, listen to Jadakiss and act as a part-time activist on social media for black liberation. You may not even be “woke” if you are out there daily as a full-time activist for equal treatment across the spectrum of societal issues concerning people of color.
Please know there is nothing wrong with any of those things I mentioned. Full transparency, I have an ankh tattoo. What I am saying is that being “woke” is not a function of those things or evidence that you have your sights on seeking the truth. It is more often than not that people do a mashup of these things in an effort to be seen as culturally-aware or even culturally-sensitive.
To be “woke” you have to awaken. To awaken you have to stop sleeping. Being “woke” is a matter of consciousness and in that state of consciousness, you must also have a conscience. In other words, you have to care, be aware and open to seeing things as they are; not what you think they are. The state of our country is in a disarray not just because 45 is at the helm, it is in a disarray because of decades of neglect, discord, and greed among a few things I will not mention here. If you are awake and seeing things clearly, you understand that narratives like “black people are in dire straits and suffering” is not only not true, but you would know that if there were such an instance in being Black in America that it has more to do with the disproportionate ways we are educated, compensated, and treated legislatively that contributes to poverty in our communities and even crime.
There is a state of consciousness you have to be in to not merely accept the neatly-packaged narratives you are fed by the government, media and even loved ones. To be “woke” you have to be willing to discover the unabashed truth. You have to be willing to speak honestly about what you find. It is a state of being that will not allow you to turn a blind eye to the suffering and truths of others. Being woke means you lead with heart over head understanding that it was never in the plans for any human to suffer on their journey here.
To be woke is to explore yourself coming to a place of understanding for that which is most integral to your values and morality. Wokeness is having all of that knowledge in a world of representatives and boldly deciding to show up as yourself every day regardless of the consequences.
Is it easy? Not at all. Is it worth your time and effort to get there? Absolutely.
Let us not make the term “woke” another social banality that we get so tired of hearing that we missed the message and lesson it tried to teach us.
As humans and as professionals in a human-centric industry, we owe it to ourselves and to the people we serve to try a little more every day to awaken to the truth of other people’s experiences. You may not understand it fully, but exposing yourself to narratives that make you uncomfortable is a start.
I hope you will take the steps necessary to quiet your ego, speak less, and allow space for other people to speak their truths. If you can do that at a minimum, you are well on your way to being “woke”.
This is the time of year that predictions are made and data is shared about what the strategic and operational goals are for the upcoming year. Although management firms spend an inordinate amount of time and money collecting this data all year long for these much-coveted reports, there is rarely anything earth-shattering about what CEO’s, business leaders or professionals have to say about where their focus will be in the new year. The usual banter will be about increasing engagement, improving candidate experience, technology, finding the best talent etc. As you can see, nothing really shocking.
However, 2017 has been illuminating. I wanted to say “different”, but that would mean that what I am about to share is new as of this year and it isn’t. In fact, what I will share is the result of something somewhere in the archives of time that started off as a snowball and is now an avalanche of end-of-the-world proportions crushing souls and careers to boot. This thing I speak of is the erosion of integrity and values in business.
2017 is the first year in my existence where just about every month there has been some company, company head or public figure who has come under scrutiny for either illegal or unethical practices. There have been so many “sorry’s” and “apologies flung around this year that it is becoming nauseating and unbelievable. The travesty in it all is that people who knew that all of this unethical and illegal behavior was the very thing that contributed to the fame, fortune and prestige always knew the things we see playing out. They were just waiting and hoping that the rest of the world would see it someday. So what has changed this year? For the first time ever and for reasons unknown to me, people were willing to believe the stories otherwise known over the years as individual gripes, “crazy talk”, imaginary happenings, urban legends and conspiracy theory this year. Suddenly, what was always in the shadows and dark got its much-deserved light via social media, blogs, livestreams, and a lot of bravery on the part of people who chose to break their silence.
In a lot of ways, this year has been one huge coming-out party and not in a good way. Whether it is our government and the corruption of the day or the growing list of sexual harassment and assault charges following the Harvey Weinstein debacle, it has not been a good year for US companies and more specifically humans as a whole. The latest debacle is set at Huffington Post. According to an article published yesterday by Gizmodo, Arianna Huffington ignored sexual harassment claims made by workers in her New York office while she was still running the company. The article goes on to state that one such former managing editor whose sexual misconduct was known to her also garnered a transfer to HuffPost India as a result of an HR investigation. How an investigation that leads to the proof that an employee of yours is engaging in sexual misconduct doesn’t result in a termination is beyond me.
Without diving too deep into this particular story, I prefer to examine the over-arching narrative of CEO’s and leaders, in general, both men and women who consistently overlook, engage in, and embrace unethical and illegal practices as a means to secure opportunities, line their pockets and the pockets of their shareholders and investors. I would be lying if I said I had never encountered leaders or employees behaving unethically who somehow managed to keep their jobs, lives, and lifestyles intact. It has disgusted me. I often spoke up about it only to be met with “Well you know it is John Bae. Yes, he is a jerk and misogynist, but he brings in a shit ton of money for the company, so we have to tread lightly”.
Frankly, I am glad 2017 raised a proverbial mirror to all of the things that make us suck at being human. Now, that we all know and finally see what we all knew was commonplace in business how do we move forward in trust? Can “building trust within my organization” really be on your scorecard when your foundation has been flooded with the truth and is now crumbling as a result? Can you genuinely accept that accolade for best company for women when you have investigations sitting on your desk overlooked and predators collecting checks on your dime? Can you really call your company culture “diverse and inclusive” if you secretly donate operating budget to the KKK or 45’s ongoing campaign? Note: “Diverse” and “inclusive” is maybe not appropriate if the latter applies.
Suddenly, no company, CEO or person is safe from the truth. Your money, prestige, and power are on a timer and the time is nearly up. The only thing leaders should be thinking about going into 2018 is integrity. I’m not sure where along the journey, so many decided that money trumped having values, meant destroying lives and doing it with a smile. Now is a time to ask your employees to blow the whistle internally before the public has its way with you and your brand. It is time, to be honest, and say sorry because you mean it. It is a good time to make amends and provide whatever you must to make it right with the people who show up daily to impact your bottom line.
Everybody needs to take one long hot shower to wash the filth of 2017 and before off and start anew in 2018 with a focus on treating employees, customers, and citizens of this world with the dignity they deserve as a matter of being a fellow human. It may cost you revenue. You may piss off your board of directors and investors, but isn’t it time for “good” to make a comeback?
For some starter tips on cleaning house, revisit an Aristocracy of HR throwback: The Untouchables: Why you should stop salvaging bad employees at every level.
Image courtesy of Flickr.
I’ve spent the better half of my career immersed in work environments that had to keep a watchful eye over things like diversity & inclusion. The work felt like something I should be proud of — seeing as though it is predicated upon providing equal opportunity to people who have often been outcast based on everything from race to physical disability. At the same time that I was busy being proud, I found something interesting among my HR peers and other internal partners. This interesting tidbit was: Nobody “really” cared about diversity and inclusion.
Sure, we had several funded and active programs to quote, unquote “level the playing field”. We met regularly to look at how we were making strides with our Affirmative Action Plan and goals. For good measure, our leadership would even make it their business to make a very poignant and seemingly genuine speech at our African-American Affinity Group Scholarship Dinners or our coveted Black History Month Celebrations.
Still, very few in the organizations I’ve both worked for and heard about via the anecdotes of similarly-situated colleagues truly cared about diversity. It could be read between the rolling eyes, I witnessed when white hiring managers were forced to pull together a competitive slate of candidates instead of hiring their friends or others from their network. It was evidenced, when in one company I worked for — the administrative pool was 80-90% white and left us consistently having to answer to our partners in the Diversity Group about why we could never manage to hire more people of color with such high availability and capability numbers. It became blatantly clear that no one cared, when even in HR, people of color were better educated and had stronger backgrounds than the bulk of the white professionals working for the company – yet we had to consistently answer to these people who had no clue. The disdain, jealously, and surprise oozed as I watched my white counterparts half-smile or as others call it “smized” with wonderment in their eyes as I spoke up for myself in meetings. The kind of “who hired her, she’s so articulate and smart” looks, but I digress.
I spent over 10 years in HR and really never met a person that wasn’t of color who truly cared about Diversity. Scratch that, even people or color gave up on the promise of diversity in time when they realized the purported efforts never matched the actual outcomes in real life. It in turn made me want to fight for the people I served more. It is the reason that I not only revived the otherwise defunct, African-American Affinity Group at my last job, I also ran and got elected to President in the group while working in HR (which had never been done and was frowned upon). When it came time to work with a national organization to help reformed youth who ended up in the prison system and I knew it was simply a superficial endeavor on the part of my then-employer — I raised my hand to manage the program. There were no shortage of hurdles I had to overcome in getting these stellar gentlemen hired for a program that was allegedly supported from the top. Oh, but somebody tell me again about how ‘diversity’ is so important.
Somebody, anybody share that statistic we have all run into the ground about how teams and organizations are more “innovative”, “productive and “profitable” with a diverse team and leadership behind it. Now that I have effectively left “The Matrix” that is Corporate America, I see why both the concept and application of diversity is troublesome for so many companies and the people that run them.
Here are some thoughts and questions I have:
1) When we really break down why any diversity, inclusion and or anti-discrimination laws exist we must automatically return to the root cause of it all which is the anti-color sentiment on which the U.S was built and continues to run (a.k.a slavery, Jim Crow Laws, Segregation, Mass Incarceration of POC etc.).
2) If it is truly part of the founder or CEO’s moral and ethical fabric to have an “appreciation” or “love” of all human beings and their unique contributions, why do you need a group or department or a law to guide your efforts to not only include all human beings; but see that they are given a a fair chance to be hired, developed and afforded equal access to opportunity?
3) How is it that companies have Affirmative Action Plans that get diluted and minimized to quotas in which they hire just a few POC, females etc. to appear diverse enough to keep their government contracts; but still leave some cushion for the latitude they crave to hire their golf buddies, neighbors or family members (who possess little to no requisite skills)?
“Diversity” is like a curse word in business. What it screams to CEOs is that you cannot just hire people who walk, chew, think and look like you. For the most part, they all want clones of themselves at every level of their company and the only time it even strikes them as plausible to look beyond themselves is when they can’t find the acumen they need to be profitable in their sea of clones. You shouldn’t have to be coerced or convinced to hire someone different if you are truly for all people. Diversity meetings shouldn’t have to happen every week or every month if you genuinely care and champion it. Moreover, the government shouldn’t have to regulate how you do business by dangling the carrot of money in front of you to not discriminate and provide equal opportunity. The fact that all of the practices I just mentioned are so pervasive, let’s me know that less of you care about diversity than you are willing to admit.
Before you go building that new diversity program or hiring that new Director of D&I, I would highly suggest you think about why they are needed in the first place.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with my friend, Mark A. Dyson host of The Voice of Jobseekers Podcast along with another friend, Chris Fields, Owner of Resume Crusade. We discussed many of the double and triple standards I discussed in this article. If you are interested, take a listen below and share your thoughts in the comments. We appreciate you!
Are we still at a point where leaders are unable to provide their employees with constructive feedback regarding their performance?
I’ve recently been made aware of several situations where there are clear deficits in performance from a team perspective in companies. In most instances, everyone on the team knows who is and isn’t pulling their weight and that includes the leaders.
You would think that this should be a slam-dunk scenario whereby the supervisor and/or leader – actively deals with the team members who are slacking off via performance discussions etc. I’m finding that this is not the case. Instead, leaders are opting to have general and redundant conversations with entire teams as an attempt to appear fair in how they delve out criticism.
I would argue that this approach is having the opposite effect. The impact of this approach is employees that are performing at and above expectations are unfairly being subjected to criticism that isn’t a reflection of their individual performance. Having to endure this criticism as a whole rather than individual performance being addressed makes employees feel as though they are working in a “romper-room” environment causing them to not only reject any pertinent criticism that follows; but also creates resentment among team members.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say I am a recruiter on a team of five recruiters for a manufacturing company. We all handle “easy-to-fill” positions, but requisition volume is high as is turnover organization-wide so we are in a constant state of active recruitment. There is an established number of hires each recruiter is required to upkeep on a monthly basis in order to ensure the plant has enough workers to absorb new work coming in via new contracts. In this scenario, the magic number is 30 new hires per recruiter. Three of the recruiters including myself meet and/or exceed the expected number of hires. The other two recruiters consistently hire between 15-18 people and claim they cannot possibly meet the established quota.
The three performers along with the leaders are aware that these two are the weakest links on the team and also recognize that their inability to meet the established number of hires has to do with a mix of poor work habits, slacking and a lack of urgency where they are concerned.
There are a few options in handling this situation:
- Continue treating the whole indifferently because parts of the team are not working in an optimal manner by imposing daily monitors of work completed on the entire team as well as threats of disciplinary actions.
- Have a performance discussion with the two recruiters who aren’t meeting the standard – while highlighting how they may work more efficiently. Additionally, recognize the recruiters who are consistently performing so they are aware that their efforts are appreciated and being seen.
Number #2 would be the most optimal solution to dealing with this situation. This scenario reminds me of grade school when there would be a student who misbehaved consistently during class. Teachers that had the better sense knew that it was far better to remove unwieldly students from the classroom in an effort of not robbing the other attentive students of quality instruction time.
The same is true here. It isn’t fair to your employees who are doing the right thing to be subject to rules, disciplinary actions or indifferent leadership because you refuse to deal with their co-workers’ performance issues .
Communicate, document, and/or cut ties with employees that aren’t meeting performance standards, if you need to. Just know that no grown adult wants to be treated like they are back in preschool, because you are incapable of addressing performance concerns head-on.
There are all of these articles about communication and engagement. I have contributed my thoughts in some of them. They are all useful in some regard if you want to get to the bottom of your engagement and communication issues. Except, we would have to include the one nuisance variable that most leaders and companies won’t cop to and that is: The cloak of silence.
We are working and living in the age of knowledge. We have more data points than we can use and have more information at our finger tips than previous generations. If given a chance, most leaders will cite wanting to understand their employees better. They want to understand things like motivations, propensity to leave, career aspirations etc.
What makes this problematic is leaders and companies want to know these things, but are often times not willing to ingest and digest the answers. Often times, when the answer they receive is unfavorable for them or the company – they react. The reaction is negative and usually sets such a tone that any further or future communication like it will be non-existent, censored and/or stifled.
Around the time of the 9/11 attacks here in NY the MTA came out with this whole campaign that said: ” If you see something, say something.” Many businesses latched onto this saying and started using it as a way to appear as though employees should feel free to share the things they are noticing and should feel safe to do so without fearing retaliation. There are some good eggs that truly stand by having an open, honest and communicative culture.
Others still, prefer a cloak of silence. They prefer for employees to be seen and not heard. These are companies that like when people speak up to praise the organization and its leaders. Companies that prefer a cloak of silence literally squash and black list anyone who dreams of raising a concern or anything deemed unfavorable for the company.
Let us examine through this example:
I worked for a company in a previous life that loved to hold town halls. If you know anything about town halls you know that they are meant to be open forums where people can come to have their ideas and concerns heard by those in power. The goal is that healthy debate and conversation is brought to the table by the constituents and those in power so that amicable solutions can be implemented.
When we had town halls, they spent weeks communicating the importance of our participation. It was even shared that no question was “dumb” or “irrelevant”. Yet, the first town hall I attended at this company was quieter than a church during Sermon. The CHRO spent an hour speaking about projects, opportunities, our organizational scorecard and then asked for questions. One of my co-workers raised her hand and if looks could kill she would have been dead. She continued to ask her question about adding additional members to our team, because of the excessive workload. Her question was answered abruptly and dismissed.
After the town hall, some of my more tenured co-workers spoke among themselves about how this employee who spoke up never learns her lesson. As in, she should have remained quiet instead, because clearly her question was not welcomed.
Every subsequent meeting and town hall was marred by a cloak of silence. We all knew that it wasn’t worth our time to ask questions or raise issues in these meetings despite what leadership was saying. They didn’t really want to know. It was all about faking their way to engagement and open communication – except they were doing a really poor job at it.
If you have noticed the same in your company here are some tips for building trust and getting your employees to communicate with you again:
1) Don’t ask questions, if you don’t want the answers. What people experience in their jobs day-to-day is very real. Don’t ask them to lie to you so your feelings aren’t hurt. Your employees have a right to not work in fear and you deserve to hear the truth so you can improve.
2) If delivery of certain messages are your concern, set a few ground rules for your town halls and meetings. Let’s be honest, sometimes intention doesn’t meet delivery at the finish line when it comes to communication. Having a few ground rules for meetings and town halls will help to set the tone. Be sure that your employees know you will abide by them as well.
3) When they speak, you listen and then take action. What is the point of having all of these data points, if you are going to simply hoard them – only to do nothing with it. When your employees speak up it’s an act of bravery on their part. The way they know that you have heard them is by acknowledging what was said and taking action.
Communicating doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you get over your own fears and needs to control what and how your employees say something – it will be a smoother ride for both parties.